The Woman in the Woods

Somewhere in Maryland. It’s an eerie feeling, cycling in the woods, far from civilization. You could die out here and nobody would know for days until your income taxes were late.

The newspaper story would read, “Cyclist tries to fend off copperhead with tennis shoe and dies.”

My wife and I have been doing this remote trail together, but somehow we got split up this afternoon. I don’t know how I lost her. I know she’s biking ahead of me somewhere, but I haven’t seen her in a mile. I’m starting to get worried, thinking about all this copperhead business. I hate snakes.

This trail is full of fatal snake stories. You hear idle chatter from fellow hikers retelling tales about how some hapless soul once got snakebitten on the face by a copperhead while trying to take the snake’s picture.

There are a million chilling tales like this circulating around the trail.

So your senses get very heightened while you’re out here. Which isn’t a bad thing, actually. It’s exhilarating. It makes snacks taste better. Your vision gets sharper. Scenery seems more intense.

After another few minutes, I see my wife in the distance. I am relieved to finally find her. She has stopped on the trail, straddling her bike, waiting for me. Her tiny black silhouette is far away against a cloudy sky. A canopy of oaks drape over her. She doesn’t see me yet.

This woman has been with me for nearly two decades. Sometimes it still feels like we just met last Tuesday.

Oh, how I wish time would slow down.

I’ve been thinking about some deep stuff in the woods this afternoon. It’s easy to do that in this space. It’s probably because you’re always staring at ancient trees that will outlive everyone’s great-great-great grandkids.

And you’re looking at towering volcanic prehistoric rocks that just sit here undisturbed. You think about how these rocks will still be here when the sun gets too tired to keep shining. Long after your bones have become soil pH.

This makes you feel small. Not in a bad way, but in an exciting, thrilling, “this is cool” way. You start to see your own life as a brief flicker of electricity. A lone spark. We blink once and then, snap, it’s over.

I know this all seems morbid, but these thoughts don’t depress you out here. They fire you up. Because you realize that you’re not dead yet.

So you start taking inventory of things you once thought mattered: career, money, retirement, status, possessions, the importance of relief pitching, etc.

And it all just fades into a beige background. None of it matters. Not really. You know in your soul that nobody on their deathbed ever says, “Gee, I wish I woulda had a better paying job.” Or, “Gosh, I wish I woulda invested in more mutual funds.”

No. People who are about to die have it all figured out. They think about one thing only. And that one thing is on the trail with me today. She is silhouetted in the distance, waiting for me.

Long ago we met when I was a lost boy. From the moment we hooked arms we became an instant family. She was Juliet, I was Romeo; she was Elizabeth, and I was Mister Darcy; she was Snow White, I was the Seven Dwarfs.

After our very first date I did not want to leave her on the doorstep of her home. I never wanted her to go back home. I wanted to be her home.

She was feisty, unpredictable, and honest to a flaw. She hated celery, hated licorice, liked corny legal thrillers, loved the color blue, and had the biggest known sticker collection this side of Houston.

We ran up phone bills talking each day and night until one of us fell asleep holding the phone. We went on weekend drives to nowhere. We had a few hellacious arguments.

The day of our wedding we’d only known each other six months. People said I was a fool for getting married so fast. Strange fundamentalist elders appeared out of nowhere and tried to talk me out of the marriage. They told me not to rush into anything.

“You always have plenty of time,” they all said.

But deep in my heart I knew these men were full of a plentiful substance often found in barnyards and litter boxes. Because nobody has “plenty of time.” Nobody. And don’t you ever forget it.

Besides, this was not just a female. I believe that long before the foundations of the planet were poured; long before the stars were flung onto the black night; long before God created the SEC, our love was made.

I think lovers are handcrafted in the workshop of Heaven. And I think we start out as the same singular block of wood. Until one day the craftsman splits us down the middle to make two.

He roughed us out , carved us, gave me a wicked set of buck teeth, divided us, and placed us in separate parts of the world. Then he gave us one earthly occupation. Finding each other.

And somehow we did. Although I don’t know how.

I am getting closer to the silhouette. Soon we are together again. We are alone in the woods with nothing around us but ancient trees. She is crouched low to the dirt.

I approach her from behind. “What’re you doing?” I ask this woman.

“Oh,” she says, aiming her phone at the ground. “I’m taking a picture of a copperhead.”

47 comments

  1. Judy - September 13, 2020 7:08 am

    I went through paper mache and origami before I finally found my block of wood. He is my old sturdy knowing tree and he hates snakes.

    Reply
  2. Harriet -Atlanta - September 13, 2020 7:08 am

    The last line – hilarious 😆. It’s great to have a soul mate. Mine is Brian. ❤️

    Reply
  3. Susan Adams - September 13, 2020 9:30 am

    “I wanted to be her home” reminds me of a line in Cover Me Up, Jason Isbell’s song written for and about his wife. “Home was a dream, one I’d never seen, til you came along.” I’m glad you found your home.

    Reply
  4. Nell Thomas - September 13, 2020 10:00 am

    One of your best. Thanks. Happy trails.

    Reply
  5. Keloth Anne - September 13, 2020 10:13 am

    I love this one and how special to know the love you and Jamie share ♥️♥️
    You are both incredible but you really “got me” with that ending!!
    You both keep enjoying biking but stay safe ♥️🥰

    Reply
  6. Diane Toth - September 13, 2020 11:30 am

    😉

    Reply
  7. Leialons - September 13, 2020 12:05 pm

    Perfect ending.

    Reply
  8. RCK - September 13, 2020 12:10 pm

    Such a quirky but moving description of love. Wonderful and right on!

    Reply
  9. Steve - September 13, 2020 12:27 pm

    I am loving your trail writing. As you often say, you never know when a word or a deed or an act is going to impact someone in a positive and timely way and that is the case right now. So good

    Reply
  10. Pamela Williams - September 13, 2020 12:36 pm

    ❤️

    Reply
  11. Peggy Thompson - September 13, 2020 12:42 pm

    ♥️♥️

    Reply
  12. Julia Blake - September 13, 2020 1:01 pm

    Morning! your trail stories are great and it sounds beautiful. I totally agree with you about meeting your wife. You probably knew her before. Ever seen the movie with Timothy Hutton and Kelly McGillis called “Made in Heaven” – no academy award winner but supports the theory. Very enjoyable. Also read the book “Only Love is Real” by Dr Brian Weiss. I think you might like. Be safe and take care.

    Reply
  13. LBJ - September 13, 2020 1:03 pm

    I truly believe my grandfather & his neighbor, Al, were sitting in heaven, having a brew or two when they decided my husband & I would be a wonderful match.
    We just celebrated our 40th anniversary. Cheers to our heavenly matchmakers!

    Reply
  14. Jan - September 13, 2020 1:04 pm

    Love this!!!

    Reply
  15. Tim Fisher - September 13, 2020 1:22 pm

    Thanks Sean for still loving your wife after 2 decades …and for being willing to take a risk on marriage…the younger generation needs to see us old people in love and making marriage work! …even when well meaning fundamentalist elders hopefully with good intentions get it wrong. I enjoy reading you, because I grew up so much like you… I can laugh at your subtle pokes at the church…especially the fundamentalist kind…I only hope and pray that you will not throw Jesus out with the fundamentalist!

    Reply
  16. Leana L'Hoste - September 13, 2020 1:36 pm

    Every time Mr Dietrich! Every time I take a moment to read your blog it warms my heart and brings a smile to my face. Every time I am glad I took that moment. You are gifted and blessed. Thank you sharing your heart with us.

    Reply
  17. Bobbie - September 13, 2020 1:53 pm

    There are two things I love about you…not just two, but the special ones…your gift of words and the amazing love you have for your wife!!
    I try not to be envious…that’s not Christianlike. But maybe it’s ok to wish I had had that kind of love in my life. I think God wanted other things for me.
    God bless you both…what you have is very special. Never take it for granted. Be safe out there. Enjoy each day of your wonder adventure together !
    We shan’t pass this way again. ❤️🚴‍♀️

    Reply
  18. Berryman Mary M - September 13, 2020 2:00 pm

    “I wanted to be her home……….”. Great line, Sean. Speaks volumes about love. Thanks for writing that.

    Reply
  19. Connie - September 13, 2020 2:54 pm

    I love how you’re never shy about expressing your love for Jamie. I love the way you string words together. I’m happy for you and the handful of others I know who found their love. It never happened for me but I’ve had a full and mostly happy life anyway. Glad you’re able to get out in the world again. Stay safe. Sending hugs to you both.

    Reply
  20. Phil (Brown Marlin) - September 13, 2020 2:58 pm

    Beautiful, Sean (like Jamie). You may just be the second luckiest guy on the planet, me being number one. Like you, I often wonder how God could love a goofball like me so much to put the finest girl he had in front of me those many years ago.
    Keep riding those trails with Jamie, and don’t worry about her fascination with Southern Copperheads and other scary varmints. After all,she must be even more attracted to a different kind of critter – one Sean of the South.
    Your story also reminded me of how short our time is here, and how we spend it is up to us. James 4:14 says “You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. Our lives are like a mist, a vapor, that appears for a little while, and then vanishes away.” So, enjoy each day we are given, and use it to honor Him by doing something good for someone, like writing wonderful words of wisdom and inspiration.

    Reply
  21. John - September 13, 2020 2:59 pm

    I especially love the craftsman and his work of art. What a beautiful concept! Well done, Sean!

    Reply
  22. Susan - September 13, 2020 3:38 pm

    Another wonderful story😉🤗👍

    Reply
  23. Chris Spencer - September 13, 2020 3:45 pm

    Now Sean, even though the last line is hilarious and you wrote it just for that purpose, I’m sure you know that a woman born and raised in South Alabama would never get face to face with a copperhead to take its picture. She knows better.

    May God bless you two with many more years of love, happiness and good health together. I love you both. Have a blessed day,
    Chris Spencer
    Elrod, Alabama
    I saw and met you and Jamie when yall were in Aliceville, Alabama and had pictures made with you. I should have some made with Jamie because she is your rock that helps make you you.

    Reply
  24. Christina - September 13, 2020 3:50 pm

    Just love you two and your journey of love and adventure!

    Reply
  25. MAM - September 13, 2020 3:57 pm

    I love your story of being made in the same piece of wood. I’m the gnarled knot in the wood to my calm, loving husband of 52 years. We met in an absolute, “it had to be ordained by God” way from almost opposite ends of the country. And we met in September, got engaged in February and married in July, so, when it’s right, it doesn’t need to “wait!” Keep loving, keep pedaling and keep writing!

    Reply
  26. bill Strawn - September 13, 2020 4:08 pm

    You are a lucky man, well aware when he found the best part of his life. AND she is a lucky woman to have someone as smart as you, as you knew she was the best thing in the world. Have a great Sunday.

    Reply
  27. Gwen Goldman - September 13, 2020 4:28 pm

    I love this story. It reminds me of how my husband and I found one another.

    Reply
  28. jstephenw - September 13, 2020 4:52 pm

    Damn Sean. Both the Dietrichs and the Martins should be so proud of this column! Not just well written, but heartfelt. Makes me want to appeciate my wife more. Mt wife said to tell you thanks.

    Reply
  29. Linda Moon - September 13, 2020 5:00 pm

    Scary snake tales are the worst kind of all. They out-do Poe and Stephen King. Being afraid of copperheads can actually clear one’s mind. “Not Dead Yet” clears mine a lot. Gosh, I love this love story in the midst of the snake-fears…and that Jamie got the photo and lived to tell about it! Tell her that “Uma” loves her!

    Reply
  30. Robert M Brenner - September 13, 2020 5:10 pm

    I guess this throws you into the “White Knight” role! Save the beautiful princess from that evil copperhead! Sean like you I hate 🐍! Travel safe…

    Reply
  31. Andy - September 13, 2020 6:34 pm

    Enjoy your updates as my wife and I use to ride the B & O Canal trail from Cumberland down into WVA, I take it you experienced the Paw Paw tunnel?

    Reply
  32. Veronica Sayer - September 13, 2020 6:43 pm

    Sean, thank you for this commentary. My husband and I married four and a half months after meeting. It was a blind date. He was 33 years old. I was a month away from turning 23. By the end of the evening I was in love and thought that if I couldn’t marry him, I wouldn’t ever marry anyone. Luckily, he felt the same. The proposal was carried out between dinners in a Pizza Hut (asking) and a Pancake House (both having taken time for reflection. It’s a big step.) That was just over 51 years ago, and he is still the only man I can ever conceive being married to. We even seem to be able to read each other’s mind before a word is spoken. I think you are on to something with your conclusion about love. I always enjoy your writings, but this one is tops. Regards to your lovely wife.

    Reply
  33. MyPlace - September 13, 2020 7:55 pm

    Thank you for this, Sean.
    You are so right, about All of it. I found my “home” 40 years ago, and we were married 6 months later, also. And you are right about this kind of love being fore-ordained. We would have never met otherwise.
    You are also on point about Not having plenty of time. I lost my other half August 19th this year, and my life will never be the same. However, we didn’t waste a minute waiting for this to happen or that to happen or to have enough money or to find enough time to go have fun together. We did all sorts of outrageously fun things (and incited each other to riot) the entire time we were together. Now I have such treasured memories to run on the movie screen in my mind.
    Because of those, he will never be truly gone.

    Reply
  34. Michael Rudman - September 13, 2020 9:33 pm

    A few years back, I was on the C&O towpath, not far from where you are now when a couple passed us going the other direction. “There’s a snake on the path a few hundred feet ahead,” they told us. When we came up on the snake it looked deflated, as if it had been flattened by a steam roller. I bent over it, to get a closer look, thinking it was dead, as it was immobile. My now wife was horrified at my imprudence. Suddenly, the snake did that slithering thing they do with their tongue. Jo Ann screamed at the top of her lungs. It’s… It’s ALIVE!!! Bringing up memories of Mel Brooks’s Young Frankenstein. I stepped back and gave the copperhead a wide birth. BTW, fatalities from copperhead bites are extremely rare. They do hurt a lot and cause painful swelling. Our timber rattlesnakes are much more dangerous, but are thankfully very reclusive, rarely biting humans, almost always males who for some reason (having WAY too much alcohol on board is reason number one) who prod them or disturb their peace. Humans are not food for most snakes. Small rodents are preferred.

    Reply
  35. Tammy S. - September 13, 2020 11:45 pm

    ❤️❤️!!! Love this!!
    So thankful for the love God carved out for me, and that we get to be a “we” for as long as we both shall live. Another great one, Sean!!

    Reply
  36. BJean - September 14, 2020 1:36 am

    I love how you expressed thoughts that are so similar to some thoughts that have been on my mind lately. I have been feeling like my life is just a spark in a vast expanse of time, and it is ok. The end of the story here is just a blip on the screen of the life he drew out and gave to us. The story will continue. But as I’ve grown closer to that blip, I’ve noticed many things receding into the background that I once thought were important. And the field of my focus has narrowed. And somehow life seems lighter on my shoulders. These are thoughts I like to remember on days I’ve lost perspective and life starts crowding in again. Thank you for reminding me, Sean.

    Reply
  37. Denise Walker - September 14, 2020 1:58 am

    so very sweet. We who have found our special-other-half recognize the truth. Thanks for expressing all those special feelings for all of us.

    Reply
  38. Ellen Akers - September 14, 2020 3:43 am

    Thank you. That’s so beautiful…I lost my dear husband last March. When we met, it was instant … magnetic. We had been looking for each other our whole lives. We both said that to each other. It was so clear to both of us. We married quickly, and thoroughly enjoyed every bit of our time together. In the end, he went quickly, and we stared into each other’s eyes as he left. As you said, and I totally agree, that we are carved from the same wood, separated, and meant to find each other on this earth.

    Reply
  39. Anne Arthur - September 14, 2020 2:12 pm

    Profound and funny.

    Reply
  40. Sue Cappd - September 14, 2020 5:41 pm

    I love that last line! You are a gift to us. We treasure you.

    Reply
  41. Jess Rawls - September 14, 2020 7:46 pm

    Sean, I agree with you about our soul mate being made by God, and it’s our task to find him/her. I found mine and I don’t believe it was an accident or luck that we met. We dated for four years (talk about not rushing into anything) and we’ve been married 53 years. And, like you, I wish time would slow down a bit so I can truly savor each and every day that I have left. Great column!!!

    Reply
  42. DiAn - September 14, 2020 10:32 pm

    Amazing and beautiful! All day I’ve been reminded of the Jim Croce song, “Time in a bottle”. Seems that we all want to slow things down to savor life – despite Covid-19, wildfires, and snakes – a bit more. Reading Sean’s column helps. Thank you,

    Reply
  43. Barbara - September 15, 2020 3:24 am

    I had a wonderful second mother who buried two husbands. She met a wonderful man who had buried one wife. They were in their mid 70’s. When they asked the preacher to marry them, he said that they had to go through a marriage counseling required by the church. The man told the preacher that at their ages they couldn’t waste the time and the preacher relented and married them. They had 10 happy years together. I loved them.

    Reply
  44. Mark - September 15, 2020 10:44 pm

    SEAN: this one’s about the woman, right not the snake…LOL

    Reply
  45. Cheryl Weathington - September 17, 2020 11:29 pm

    I love reading your thoughts. They make me feel grounded, and help me remember what’s important in life. You and Jamie enjoy your bike ride and keep on sharing with us

    Reply
  46. Larry Wall - September 21, 2020 7:36 pm

    Sean, it can be six months, six years, six weeks, six days. It doesn’t matter, it happens when it is ‘meant to be’. In the case of me seeing my wife for the first time it might have taken as much as six seconds. I knew immediately that I had seen my life-long partner and so it has been, for nearly 52 years. It is still full of love and laughter. And I am the one who was always getting yelled at by her for doing the crazy things, like hanging over the ledge or messing with a snake. Your trail stories have been delightful and informative, even. Maybe it is time to buy a beach cruiser bike. 🙂

    Reply
  47. Pat McGilberry - September 24, 2020 10:35 pm

    This is beautiful!!!

    Reply

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